Monday, April 21, 2014

Is Kyle Gibson like, good?

Kyle Gibson had the pedigree of a star after constantly making top prospect lists throughout his minor league career, and not just for the Twins, but for the entire league.  He had the track record with some very good minor league seasons, including 2013 before he was called up.  Then he finally made his debut last June and looked very good against Kansas City and suddenly the sky was the limit, but that was where the good feelings stopped.  In ten starts he compiled a ghastly 6.53 ERA with a drastic drop in his K/9 and way too high of a line drive rate.  There were positive signs - his xFIP was a run and a half better than his ERA, his BABIP was unsustainably high, and his HR/FB probably was too.  But I was a little bit worried.

This season he's been dazzling, winning all three of his starts on his way to a sparkling 0.93 ERA and 1.09 WHIP.  In those three games he's totaled 19.1 innings pitched and allowed a mere 12 hits, although just 10 strikeouts versus 9 walks is a bit troubling.  Terrible last year, great this year, which begs the question, Is Kyle Gibson like, good?

The first place to look is always BABIP, and just as he was super lucky last year, he's been very lucky this year with his BABIP at .211 (it was .350 last season).  He's also stranded 90.5% of his base runners, a completely ridiculous number, and given up 0 home runs despite 33% of his balls in play being hit in the air - another number that simply won't hold up.  Perhaps the scariest part is his strikeouts and walks.  After being a big-time strikeout pitcher throughout the minors, and even being respectable in that regard post his surgery, that part of his game has completely gone away in the majors.  He was poor last year at just 5.12 K/9, and has taken that down another notch to 4.68 this season.  Gross.  His walks, never a problem in the minors, have also taken a turn for the worse, from 3.53 per 9 last year to a positively Bedard-ian 4.19 this season.

That makes his K/BB ratio 1.45 last year and 1.1 this season - both numbers would rank dead last in the majors last season.  Worse than notorious soft-tossing nancies Scott Diamond, Barry Zito, Trevor Cahill, Joe Saunders, Jeremy Guthrie, Mike Pelfrey, and Jason Hammel - these are not guys you want to mentioned with in pretty much any scenario.  I don't know if this is something physical still going on or if it's the "Twins Way" once again screwing up someone's natural talents, but his fastball has fallen from an average of 92.1mph last season to 90.8 mph this year, a fairly alarming drop.  He's also not getting batters to chase balls out of the zone and not missing many bats when he does throw strikes.  None of this is good.

That's not to say there aren't some positives here.  Part of the reason he's had success this year is he's been able to drastically reduce his line drive rate.  It was a slightly below average 21.3% last season, and it's been slashed all the way down to 10.5% this season, 4th in the majors (and a number that would easily have been #1 last season).  The best part is those line drives from last year are becoming ground balls (+7.4%) and pop-ups (+9.0%), the easiest ways to get dudes out.  Based on his batted ball percentage his ERA should be around 2.75, which shows that although Gibson has been extremely lucky this season that doesn't necessarily rule out that he could still be a very good pitcher.

Right now Gibson looks like yet another Twins' pitch-to-contact guy who has gotten extremely lucky this year.  He's definitely taken some strides forward from last season, but he isn't really showing that high end ceiling he was projected to have.  You simply cannot be a top line pitcher with those kind of K numbers.  If he can rediscover his old ability to get whiffs to somewhere in the 6 per 9 inning area he could maybe be a #3 pitcher, but as it stands right now he's looking like no more than a 4-5.  Dammit.  This is really not how I was hoping this investigation would turn out.


j. moyer said...

How dare you

Anonymous said...

The one thing that advanced statistics don't mention here is sample size. To project that he is no more than a 4-5 based on three starts is ridiculous. Projecting that he is a 1,2,or 3 is equally ridiculous. I like the analysis, it just should be done in July rather than after three starts.

Still like the analysis, should be done later though.

WWWWWW said...

100% true and I should have put that caveat in there somewhere.